The Underrated Power of Prayer

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Perhaps the greatest human tragedy today is that people simply give up too easily. Understandably, it is much easier to just quit when we are faced with adversity than to put ourselves through the pain and suffering that are required to overcome it. Our flesh, our human nature, is indeed weak. Left to itself, it leads us into all sorts of temptations, misdeeds, and eventual self-destruction.

Life can be hard, even in here in the USA, where our quality of life expectations have far exceeded the highest hopes and dreams imaginable in almost any other place in the world.

Our personal perception always outweighs reality when it comes to our responses to the difficulties we face daily. Over time, that weight can wear us down beyond our ability to bear it.

Despair is the ultimate destination of our accumulated discouragement … hope runs out when it is most needed. Dying begins to look like a reasonable alternative to our unbearable misery. So, one way or another, death can deceptively seem to be the best solution to all of our many troubles. That is beyond tragic.

At some point in our lives we all must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That is the bad news. Thank God, there is some much better news. The Lord promises to be with us through it all.

I often wonder why we so easily forget that when we are overwhelmed by our circumstances. The fact is our God is bigger than any problem we will ever have. He loves us more than we love ourselves and is able to deliver us from all evil and restore us to a place of peace and joy in Him, in spite of the troubles we are bound to face in this present world.

Last month I underwent another spinal surgery, my third one since returning from the foreign mission field. While there has been a lot of amazing progress made in the medical practice in the last quarter of a century, there remains a great deal of risk involved when somebody, even the most qualified somebody, starts cutting into your spinal column. That is especially true when you are fast approaching your eightieth birthday and dragging along with you a few other medical conditions. I am almost three weeks into recovery and hopefully through the worst of the pain.

The surgery went well, but the healing has been much more difficult than I had anticipated, one issue being that I cannot tolerate opiate pain medication. After a few days of deep and constant hiccups along with breathing and swallowing issues, I decided to go “cold turkey” and just outlast the pain.

That might have led to the most miserable forty-eight hours of my life. While I never reached the point where I wished I were dead, I did have a better understanding of why there are people who do. Empathy has to be earned. I am grateful for the thousands of prayers directed toward my recovery from all over the world. Prayer really does change things, especially when it comes to matters of faith and trust.

In the midst of pain and suffering, the Holy Spirit directed my mind and heart to some scriptures that I know by heart, but yet am never quite able to fully actualize when it really matters. They all have to do with prayer.

The only one I seem to have mastered is the shortest and most direct one in the New Testament. It was Peter’s desperate cry to the Lord as his faith failed him and he began to drown in his dire circumstances. “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus responded immediately and pulled him up from his certain demise. Perhaps we all have worn out that same prayer, yet it still works if we believe. Desperation is definitely a prayer motivator.

Yet, I want to get past mere desperation and to take hold of the many incredible promises Jesus makes to those who love Him and trust His Word. In all four Gospel accounts Jesus invites us to ask for anything in His name and it will be done.

For instance, ”I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14).

Anything? Really? I keep looking for the loopholes or the fine print, but other than James 4:3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures,” it seems our lack of faith is the sole obstruction to appropriating this amazing promise.

Are we too sophisticated to believe in miracles anymore? Hopefully, that is a rhetorical question. Perhaps our mistaken certainties about what constitutes “settled science” limits our trust in an extra-rational transcendent reality that supersedes creation.

God’s sovereign will cannot be contradicted by the feeble wisdom of mere men. God does as He pleases. That is pretty much the essence of who He is: the Almighty. If He says He can and will do something, He means it. The question is, can we put our wholehearted faith in that and respond accordingly? As Nike suggests, “Just do it.” Ask!

Another faith-challenging scripture is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

The Lord is able to do a whole lot more for us than we have the faith and confidence to ask of Him. In fact, we can’t even imagine what all He can empower us to do. Think about that when you pray. I, for one, want to get past my limited imagination and beyond my hesitancy to approach the throne of God in faith in order to pray with power and authority, for myself and for others.

Almighty God, I pray in faith and confidence that you will manifest your love, your grace, your wisdom, and your power in us, your people whom you have called to be messengers and ministers of reconciliation of all things to you through your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thank you again for your faithful prayers as I continue to heal and prepare for my next assignment.

LeRoy

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]

5 COMMENTS

  1. LeRoy, I am sorry you are going through so much struggle with your back and whatever other ailments you refer to, and I am sending good thoughts your way for a full recovery. Thanks for your encouraging words about prayer. My only issue with what you say is with regard to this kind of thinking:

    “it seems our lack of faith is the sole obstruction to appropriating this amazing promise … the Almighty. If He says He can and will do something, He means it. The question is, can we put our wholehearted faith in that and respond accordingly? … The Lord is able to do a whole lot more for us than we have the faith and confidence to ask of Him. In fact, we can’t even imagine what all He can empower us to do. Think about that when you pray. I, for one, want to get past my limited imagination and beyond my hesitancy to approach the throne of God in faith in order to pray with power and authority, for myself and for others.”

    I fear that this portrayal of the relationship between faith and answered prayer may make the one who is praying feel in some way responsible for the outcome: “If I had more faith, I wouldn’t have this cancer” and so forth. But I have to believe the onus isn’t on you to get past your “limited imagination” to get your prayers answered.

    While the Scriptures do encourage us to pray, and do promise that whatever we ask for in faith we have, we all know in practice it doesn’t work that way (I have never heard of a single person miraculously healed of ALS, for instance, no matter how many prayers of faith were offered.)

    And the Jesus of my journey would never callously refuse a miracle and then blame the person who asked for it because she didn’t have enough faith or tell her he’s holding back on that answer until she gets past her limited imagination and asks with real authority. That would be mean for a human to say to another, much less a deity.

    The mystery of petitionary prayer is not one I can elucidate, but I do know far more prayers have been offered up in faith and not answered than have been. It’s the reason we call them miracles and not commonplaces. Yes, ask if you want to, but if the answer doesn’t come, don’t take responsibility for it. And don’t tell people God already promised to answer if you just have the faith to ask. We all have the faith to ask, and we don’t all get what we ask for — but it’s not our fault, it’s not our lack of faith. It’s just a mystery.

    STF:
    You say, “why not merely commune with your deity without asking for favors that are unlikely to be granted? The answer probably requires a certain faith that defies objectivity.”

    FWIW I think many believers DO pray this way … Those who have come to realize that the beauty of being in intimate relationship with the universal Christ IS the beauty of being in relationship with the universal Christ, so there’s no need for ‘answered prayer’ to add anything to what is already so overwhelmingly lovely. When you come to that place, what IS is what OUGHT to be, and the strength of connection to the Divine Mystery makes you able to live with and in and through it. In my experience.

    I do still toss up a hail mary when things get hairy, but there are no atheists in foxholes.

    • Thank you, Visionary for your kind thoughts. While I understand your concern that some misguided believers sometimes put guilt on themselves, perhaps even somehow feeling that bad things happen to them (and others) because their faith doesn’t measure up to Christ’s standards. Bad things certainly do happen to the best of people, even the ones who pray in faith regularly. Even Christ, Himself, prayed fervently that the Father would take the bitter cup of the crucifixion from Him. He, nevertheless, ended His prayer with “Not my will, but yours”. That is the ultimate purpose of prayer; to get ourselves aligned with God’s will instead of trying to get Him busy working on our personal agenda. We serve Him. You are right that the ultimate purpose of our prayer life is to have a closer personal relationship with our Lord and Savior. To know Him and the power of His resurrection and to somehow become conformed to His image, often through the earthly struggles we all must overcome. Divine mystery is always in play.
      The Lord regularly chided His disciples for their lack of faith and encouraged them (and us) to pray with confidence, believing that the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out on those who dare to believe that miracles; things beyond our imagination, can and do happen. I have witnessed many over my eight decades of life. I am alive today because of one of those “Hail Mary” prayers to which you referred. Signs and wonders in the early Church confirmed the validity of the Gospel message to unbelievers. They still do where there is great faith. As I understand the Bible, we are still living in the Book of Acts. We are still commissioned, empowered, and equipped to make disciples worldwide. No, we will not always see our prayers immediately answered, but we are strongly encouraged to keep on knocking, keep on seeking and keep on asking in faith…..always with the desire that it be according to the Father’s will…..always content, but never satisfied until the glory of the Lord fills the earth.

      • If one really believes that his/her deity is omniscient and actually cares about the adherent, Rev. Curtis’ stance is indefensible. Why would a limited mortal seek to intervene in a universal plan from an all-knowing god? That is analogous to a high school student dictating a path for a rocket scientist.

        Given the assumptions of omniscience and caring, Jax’s acceptance of divine will is the only rational strategy.

        If your deity can be influenced to change the grand scheme of the universe because of a self-seeking request, your deity deserves a very minor position in the pantheon.

  2. Christian intercessory prayer has always been intriguing to me because some believers profess it to be an avenue to gain personal intervention from the Almighty. Who wouldn’t want a magic bottle from which we could summon a genie at any moment?

    Of course, not even the most devout claim that their God will immediately grant any personal wish. And over 100 years of empirical research has failed to demonstrate that intercessory prayer can effect any specific outcome.

    That doesn’t meant that believers ought not to pray to their deities. It merely reinforces what Jesus’ brother is purported to have written in James 5:16. Prayer probably avails positive results for the prayers by modifying their cognitive sets as they commune with their gods. So, whether the specific outcome is granted or not, a positive emotion may be achieved.

    There’s nothing wrong with that outcome, but it begs the question,: why not merely commune with your deity without asking for favors that are unlikely to be granted? The answer probably requires a certain faith that defies objectivity.

    I offer no criticism of how anyone wishes to exercise his/her religion or spirituality. It just seems a bit odd to this outsider.